Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thoughts on Storytelling

From American linguist explores ancient town by Sonali Shenoy, about storyteller Cathryn Fairlee:

Next on her itinerary is Kancheepuram, where she is attending a village performance of the Mahabharata. “Not many people in the US know much about Hinduism or what an incredible story this epic really is. And when I tell it, I put the names up on a board like the Pandavas or Draupadi, because although the names are foreign, people can follow the story this way,” she explains.

But these adjustments never affect the story itself.

“I always tell people that if you don’t like a story, don’t tell it, but never change the ending.” A case in point?

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson. In the original version of the 1837 tale, the mermaid dies, far from the happy ending most of us remember courtesy Walt Disney’s movie adaptation. But why not change the ending to make people happy? There is no hesitation in Cathryn’s reply.

“You know if a story has been told for over a hundred years a certain way, it is not right to disrespect it, or the way it was told.”

This lady of the yarn says that it is getting harder to come across stories she has never heard before.

“I remember once when my husband and I were in China, and we were listening to a woman narrate a story in a dialect that I could not understand. After she left, her son began to translate the story and I was so excited because I realised that it was a Chinese version of Beauty and the Beast!”

Lots of food for thought in just a few short paragraphs. The debate over modern storytellers (not writers, but storytellers) changing old tales is a long one. I'm rather neutral on it since I know how much all tales are changed. However, when presenting tales as part of our cultural heritage as Fairlee does, I agree. And don't you want to hear that Chinese Beauty and the Beast?

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